Waterfront Toronto exemplifies wise public spending

stigConsider this contrast:

(1) Through persistent tax cuts and fat profits, the private sector today has amassed and is now sitting on an immense $500 billion (half a trillion) pile of what the just departed head of the Bank of Canada has called “dead money.” By that he meant money not invested in productive work creating much-needed employment in a sputtering economy.

(2) Now look at the publicly funded Waterfront Toronto (WT) agency. It was established in 2001 in a forward-looking partnership between our three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. It has so far spent and allocated almost $1.3 billion on its numerous revitalization projects.

This public investment has created a remarkable payback. It has encouraged private investment of nearly $2.6 billion in its planning area and $9.6 billion beyond in the Downtown waterfront. This is many times greater than the public investment.

The government funding partners of WT have also gained sizable tax returns on the total economic activity stimulated by the $500 million to which each are committed. The feds have already collected $348 million, the province $237 million, our city $36 million. (Notice how small Toronto’s share is of the national tax pie. Cities are at the bottom of the pecking order.)

In addition, WT initiatives have created over 23,000 full-time years of jobs and over $1.1 billion in labour income. Everybody gains! (See www.news.waterfrontoronto.ca).

Yet many politicians today insist government spending is detrimental to economic growth. They should open their closed eyes and minds and take a serious look at the accomplishments and effects of our government-funded WT. They should also examine the relative failure of the private sector to create jobs.

Thriving economies require in-depth discussion, negotiation and co-operation between our public and private sectors, both vital to our well-being. Loud grand standing on simplistic slogans of Government bad, Private Enterprise good hinders a better quality of life for all, both the 1% and the rest 99% of us.

A glaring example of basic, unfulfilled human need in our country today is the lack of affordable housing. In Toronto, lots of condos, no affordable housing. Private enterprise by its very nature is incapable of providing affordable housing because it is not profitable for them. All levels of government have shamefully abandoned their earlier successful programs building such housing.


Our remarkable mid and low-rise waterfront St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is a product of these earlier programs.

It stretches along the linear park of The Esplanade on former industrial land bought by the city with federal help. It was started some 35 years ago before Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Conservative Premier Mike Harris pulled the plug around 20 years ago on what is referred to as “social housing.” Such housing includes co-operatives, non-profit private and publlc projects.

St. Lawrence is a thriving community of mixed income in social and private housing. It has never been replicated in our city despite its success. A variant of St. Lawrence, however, is now being pioneered by the Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) in the rebuilding of publicly owned Regent Park.

Our tax-cutting Ford administration has never provided any city money to new affordable housing. It relies entirely on miserly and changing federal and provincial grants for this basic need. The growing waiting list for affordable housing in Toronto now comprises around 160,000 persons, equal to the population of Oshawa. Typical waiting times can be 10 years – or more. In a rich country like ours, this is an outright scandal.

We must learn from the economic benefits of wisely invested public money as shown by Waterfront Toronto. Publicly funded social housing can similarly create economic activity and stable, functioning communities with their attendant benefits. Let us elect governments that care for all of us as citizens in a healthy democracy and do not just refer to us as tax payers.